CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Though his chances to be the Republican presidential nominee may be dwindling, you wouldn’t have known it from Newt Gingrich’s mood on Tuesday afternoon. This week his calendar is packed during a visit to North Carolina, a state that’s a reminder, perhaps, of an early campaign high point and primary win just months ago in next door South Carolina.
Before his scheduled primary-night stop at a Concord, N.C., rally, Gingrich, accompanied by his wife, Callista, spent the afternoon more contemplatively, with a tour of the Billy Graham Library, taking in the videos and historical reminders of the evangelist’s accomplishments. At the end of the private tour — which was closed to the press — Gingrich said he met briefly with Graham’s son, Franklin Graham.
What did they talk about? “His father,” said Gingrich.
Though he and Callista were determined to stick to more ethereal concerns (“Remarkable,” he said of the exhibits; “A very spiritual experience,” she added) politics did work their way into after-tour comments.
“Being the front-runner,” Gingrich said, is not the same as “being inevitable.” That presumptive nominee Mitt Romney has moved to a “general election speech” is “insulting” to those who have yet to vote in upcoming contests, Gingrich said. “They deserve some respect.”
Gingrich also used his Billy Graham Library stop to weigh in on North Carolina’s May 8 vote on a constitutional amendment that would make marriage between one man and one woman the only domestic legal union. (In a supportive video released Tuesday, he placed the issue “at the very core of who we are.”)
President Obama, miles north and sentiments away at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Tuesday, is against the proposed change.
Though there are plenty of GOP voters already looking to November – last week’s packed Romney rally in Charlotte was proof – some Gingrich loyalists waited outside the library to show support.
Jessica Salas, 34, brought three of her four daughters; Gingrich and his wife took them along on a walk through Billy Graham’s reconstructed home on the grounds. Five-year-old Natalia held a flag-decorated sign marking 100 days of school. While other classmates chose marshmallows or jelly beans to make the point, her mom said, Natalia attached 100 little photos of Gingrich. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen 100 of these,” he said before signing it.
Gingrich “sticks to his guns,” Salas said, “He doesn’t back down from his beliefs.” Salas, who heard Gingrich speak at a Rock Hill, S.C., town hall, has read Callista Gingrich’s children’s book “Sweet Land of Liberty” to her daughter’s classrooms. The “huge” Gingrich supporter said she would back Romney in November, however, if he is the nominee.
Tenille Todd, 27 -- a history major like Gingrich – said, “Everything he says makes sense.” Wearing a Newt 2012 T-shirt, and keeping track of 2-year-old son, Noah, she said she hasn’t given up on his chances for the nomination.
Appropriately, considering the setting, she said, “I believe in miracles.”
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., is a contributor to The Root, Fox News Charlotte, NPR, Creative Loafing and Nieman Watchdog blog. She has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3